These books were selected for their discussion of the ethical ramifications of design in society, with focus on data-driven practices and how we can design more responsibly —a topic that is of utmost relevance to anyone studying design, especially information design. While there are other relevant books covering the topic, only those published in the past 24 months were included.
Each publication offers a unique perspective that will hopefully benefit your engagement with critical thinking in your design practices. The books are easily accessible: three books are open access, and, with the exception of one publication, the others are available at the Toronto Public Library —all links provided. If books are not available at your public library system or institutional library, you can always suggest your library acquire them.
The books are organized by publication date:
(MIT Press, 2020)
D’Ignazio and Klein provide a much needed introduction to intersectional feminist thinking in data-driven practices. The book offers concrete steps to learn and use data more responsibly and ethically, towards a more equitable society. As they write in the introduction, “Data Feminism is about much more than gender. It is about power, about who has it and who doesn’t and about how those differentials of power can be challenged and changed using data.” If you have to choose one book to read from the list, this is the one.
(MIT Press, 2020)
While Design Justice is the only book on the list that doesn’t specifically focus on information design and visualization, the theories and practices discussed by Costanza-Chock are both relevant and applicable to data-driven processes. The book explores the relationship between design, power and social justice through a number of community-led cases that involve participatory action research (PAR) and codesign practices.
This book combines critical thinking with practical advice in data storytelling towards communicating more effectively, ethically and empathetically with data. It includes multidisciplinary case studies in journalism, advocacy, health and other relevant civic engaged data-driven practices that are supplemented with activities and further readings.
This excellent edited collection covers a range of disciplinary perspectives on the forms, uses and roles of data visualization in society. The book is organized into 5 sections: Framing data visualization; Living and working with data visualization; Data visualization, learning and literacy; Data visualization semiotics and aesthetics; Data visualization and inequalities. While more academic than the other books in the list, it contributes to critical knowledge production on key issues of data-driven theories and practices.
(W. W. Norton, 2019)
Hard copy and e-book available at the Toronto Public Library
While written for a general audience, Cairo’s third book is a must read for those looking to increase graphical literacies as well as numeracy. How Charts Lie offers a primer on reading and interpreting graphics that ends up enhancing how we engage in representing data ethically. By increasing our data-related literacies, it augments our critical abilities both as readers/consumers as well as producers of graphics.
(MIT Press, 2019)
Loukissas proposes a critical approach to data-driven practices that is anchored in the analysis of data settings rather than data sets, privileging knowledge of the contexts surrounding data (e.g., its locality, social constructs, power relations). The book presents 6 principles that are examined in well-documented case studies, which can guide research and pedagogy. It offers a relevant and much needed theoretical alternative to problematic narratives of big data as accurate and objective.
Diagrams of Power expands the exhibition of the same name curated by Dávila, which was first presented at OCAD University’s Onsight Gallery in Toronto in 2018. The book offers an opportunity to learn about the works of designers, artists, cartographers, geographers, researchers and activists presented at the exhibit as well as knowledge produced during workshops and roundtable conversations held parallel to the show. The selection bridges past and present work centred around visual stories that interrogate the status quo.
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2018)
This book reproduces the complete set of graphics created by renowned sociologist and black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois for presentation at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The introduction and contributed texts help situate the historical, political and graphical significance of the original materials and the ways in which they anticipate, as Munro writes, “the trends—now vital in our contemporary world—of design for social innovation, data visualization in service to social justice and the decolonization of pedagogy.”
Isabel is an information designer and a professor in the faculty of design at OCAD University, Toronto. She is the author of Design for Information: An introduction to the histories, theories, and best practices behind effective information visualizations. Available at the Toronto Public Library